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Traveling artist sets the stage for Ruch School amphitheater

Roman romanticism meets rural Ruch in Philippo Lo Grande’s mural, painted in the commons area, soon to be the amphitheater of Ruch Community School.

Lo Grande was born and raised in Detroit and studied art at the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy, before beginning his 30-year career as a vagabond artist.

His work has taken him to 11 countries and 38 states, most recently to Southern Oregon, where Ruch Principal Julie Barry discovered him painting en plein air in Jacksonville and commissioned him to paint a mural at her school.

In exchange for a few household items, some rain gear and a small stipend, Lo Grande agreed, and for the past few months, he’s spent six to 10 hours a day working on the mural, conversing with students and teaching them how to make their own drawing board, create portraits and use Prismacolor sticks.

“This is my 28th mural,” said Lo Grande, adding that most of his murals are around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

“I tried doing this in Detroit, but it was too dangerous,” he said. “It was safer in Mexico.”

At Ruch, in a style he calls “magical realism,” Lo Grande depicts mountains and valleys, the progression of the seasons, a stone bridge, the town’s original century-old schoolhouse, and an outdoor stage with columns, reminiscent of the Roman aqueducts. All this he does in his signature purple and gold hues with beeswax-based acrylics.

When the mural is done, Barry said the school will create amphitheater seating so students can perform and present outdoors.

The school’s parent teacher organization pays for artists to come in and provide weekly art instruction to all grades, and together with a local benefactor Wayne Ching, covered the cost of Lo Grande’s work.

Some of Lo Grande’s landscapes, streetscapes and portraits are currently on display at the Creator’s Gallery in Jacksonville. To view more of his work, see www.flickr.com/photos/logrande.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Philippo Lo Grande works with Ruch Community School students on an acrylic mural on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch